Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Mirror

 A friend shared a teaching with me this morning from Shams Al-Tabriz, the teacher of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.  Shams said that people keep asking him for a mirror, to learn who they truly are.  But when he offers it and they look into it, they don't like what they see and they blame him for what appears in the mirror.  

When we practice meditation in the Zen tradition, we are instructed to look at ourselves as directly as possible.  Shams, like anyone who teaches and practices in this manner, knows how hard that can be.  My own experience tells me that when I look into my mirror, into my biography, the set of stories that I tell myself to explain who I am to myself, I can find all kinds of terrible things:  some of them done to me, some done by me. I can use these elements to judge myself and others  harshly.  On the other side, I tend to ignore all the evidence from my memories of my past when I behaved or was treated in a loving and helpful way.  

But whether we call the remembered events that constitute our personal biography horrible or wonderful, the incessant judgment of the self is a habit that leads nowhere.  Instead, the instruction, again and again, is to see through the self as some kind of permanent object, something to be judged or loved, and to see how the elements of the self are actually constructions.  True freedom, alignment with reality, comes from seeing through the self-construction, not abandoning it, but not treating it like something inscribed in stone either.   

Instead of spending our lives explaining ourselves to ourselves, perhaps we could do as Shams himself advises, "When everyone is trying to be something, be nothing."

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Chirping Bird Sesshin.


Most of the participants from the recent joyous Distant Temple Bell sesshin (Zen retreat) held in our Boundless Way Temple zoom zendo are shown in the photo at the left.  Our co-tanto ("head seat" or retreat manager), who helped run the sesshin along with co-tanto Rev. Paul Galvin and practice leader and registrar Jenny Smith, was Corwyn Miyagishima.  It is the tanto's privilege to name the sesshin, and Corwyn called it the Chirping Bird Sesshin -- a harbinger of Spring during these cold times in New England and elsewhere in the world.   The teachers for the sesshin were Mike Fieleke, Sensei, David Rynick, Roshi and myself, and we were joined by folks from all over the United States and Europe, Our next zoom sesshin will be in April, from the 9th to the 12th.  Come join us!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Buddhas Everywhere

As Hakuin Zenji sings in his Song of Zazen:  "All beings by nature are Buddhas, as ice by nature is water." Training the perceptual mind to see everything as an example of the awakened heart takes some work:  we have to let many of our old rigidly held patterns around differentiation, especially our certainty about right and wrong, you and me, this and that,  life and death, Buddha and not-Buddha, become looser.   

While there are indeed different qualities to  everything we encounter, and it's vitally important not to ignore differentiation, there is another view which can provide some delight to the discouraged heart in difficult times.  A friend recently told me that she had realized, in mourning a beloved parent, that even though on one level her parent was definitely dead, on another level they weren't.  She said to me, "there is no life and death!"  Her parent is definitely gone from any ordinary way of perceiving a person, but she realized that everyone she meets, alive or dead, is like this.  Her parent was once a baby, once a child, ultimately old and ill.  All of these versions of her parent were true.  And this perception applies to living people, too.  She had discovered the truth of the teachings for herself.  In the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) teachings the historical Buddha, who died 2600 years ago, is still alive, and takes an infinite variety of forms, populating the Buddha fields, which can be perceived everywhere.  

My two-year-old grandson is learning about Buddhas -- he got a plushy toy version for his birthday.  This is a Buddha who needs kisses and also has to brush his teeth.  He needs to be greeted with a cheerful, "hi Buddha!"  For many months he has been seeing Buddha statues, as well as Christian statues like the one pictured above, as different versions of Buddha.  He sees Buddhas everywhere.  As his process of ego-development and learning about differentiation continues to develop, I wonder if he will retain this freshness, and say "hi Buddha" everywhere he goes, to every religious statue he encounters.  Whatever happens to him, and to my grieving friend, they inspire me to remember to see all beings as Buddha and to see Buddhas everywhere.   

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Masked and Unmasked

Priest and friend, masked and unmasked

 It's been a long time since I posted anything beyond news of events at the Temple.  Something about the times we've been living through have left me "taking the backward step" as Dogen says, rather than reaching out to people through this blog.  But I've made a new commitment, and, in the way of all such plans, while I am fairly sure that this post will happen, I can only hope and trust that I'll continue to post more regularly.

The photo above is from a billboard in front of our local Roman Catholic church, about a national giving campaign.   I love the look on the face of our old friend white Jesus, happily unmasked and looking over the shoulder of one of his priests.  There's something about the two of them that points us all to finding a way to our common ground as human beings in the middle of a pandemic.  I've been practicing with my reactivity to people who don't wear masks, figuring that, on some level, they don't believe in the pandemic.  While the emotional-cognitive reaction I have is based on delusion, since I don't really know why people out in public aren't wearing masks (did they forget? are they having trouble breathing?  are they angels, bodhisattvas or saints appearing among us to show us the way?) it provides an opportunity to look deeply into my own tendency to create reality out of a partial understanding of what's happening at any time, anywhere.  

Zen teachings point us to the opportunity to meet everything as fully as we possibly can, to engage directly with the world we perceive and to be suspicious of the conclusions we draw.  The guideline is to be curious about everything.  I will probably never know why the people I meet during my daily walk are masked or unmasked, but I do know that they are probably human beings like me, struggling to figure out how to live in a challenging world.  This allows a more spacious internal experience, and I am then free to greet them sincerely, with a hidden, masked smile, as another companion on the path.  

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Zoom Jukai


Back in December, Boundless Way Temple held its first Zoom jukai ceremony.  In Japanese, the word "jukai" means "taking the precepts."  In Boundless Way Zen, people deepen their commitment to the Zen path by asking for permission to take the precepts from a GuidingTeacher, and then study them either with a teacher or in a precepts class, sew a rakusu (the bib-like garment that is a miniature version of the Buddha's robe), and then participate in a jukai ceremony.  Because of Covid restrictions, the physical Temple has been closed, but we have a thriving community online.  Six students were prepared to participate, and they are pictured in the photo above, along with the four Guiding Teachers of Boundless Way Zen.  The ceremony was as meaningful and touching as it is in person.  For more information about taking the precepts in Boundless Way, you can go to this link: